Beware the Man That Thinks
Have you ever seen that movie? Baxter? It’s a French horror film narrated in voice-over by a sociopathic bull terrier. I’m a bull terrier, too, but—just to be clear—I’m not a sociopath.
I live with a man who watches a lot of movies. While viewing, he narrates to me in real-time, like I don’t understand already, which I do. Today, he reads me the Baxter credits as they roll down the screen, then he turns to give me an odd look.
“Doug,” he says, “you’re not like that, too?”
He’s always doing this, asking me questions when he knows I can’t speak. Instead, I reply by blinking: one blink is yes, two blinks is no. He never gets it.
“Right?” he says. “You don’t think about snuffing—”
But he doesn’t say it with is fine because, frankly, I find the “owner” word offensive. I’m not a suitcase. But whatever, he’s the one with the can opener (all hail the can opener!). And since we’re on the questions topic, I have one for him, too: Where do you find this cinematic shit?
Just last week we saw that other movie, Man Bites Dog. Ironically, there were no dogs, just some horrendous men. The dialogue was fast French because the man’s been on some kind of French-speaking dog-movie kick. Partway through the film, though, he’d stopped narrating. At that point I’d closed my eyes already, wishing I could close my ears, too. It was just too gruesome.
“I think I should have read the description first,” the man had said.
Indeed. The man is not that organized.
So, now it’s evening, and the man is still on edge. I lie on the apartment balcony, breathing smells of bird and cat and smog and fog. The man stays in the living room, but he watches me through the sliding glass door.
Hey, I want to say, it’s just a movie. What I actually say:
One little woofle sound and nothing else. I swallow the bark back down my throat almost before it gets out.
There’s a student in an apartment down the hall who plays raucous rock all day, all night. The couple next door fights for hours, their screams like sulfur rain on Sodom and Gomorrah. But there’s a rule at the apartment complex: no barking dogs. Grounds for eviction. Affordable housing is scarce.
“Button it,” says the man through the door.
It’s late that night when finally the man takes me for a walk. I can’t help it, I always do summersaults when I feel the leash, that tugging rapture at my throat. I puff down the hall like a freight train, dragging the man after me. I rush the stairs that reek of shoes and boots, of hands and feet. I love it, odors everywhere. I eat them, drink them. My head swivels, my tongue reaches, curling, lapping for a crumb of pastry. The man walks passed me, yanks me through the door to the sidewalk outside. If I could, I’d frown.
Shit man, why you pull me like that?
But then I’m distracted, ‘cause shit’s everywhere. Dog shit, pigeon shit, homeless person shit. The smells take my mind and turn it over, rolling inside my skull. The world goes sideways, my nose goes to the ground. But the man is fast today, hauling me down the sidewalk. I can’t even piss until we reach his favorite park. It’s a hole in the wall park, recessed within the empty space between two old brownstones and shaded by oak trees. On windy days, their leaves litter the ground. In summer, they taste like green. In fall, they taste like yellow. People tell me I’m colorblind, but really I’m not. It’s just I don’t use my eyes to see colors, I use my tongue.
Raw steak tastes like red and blood and long-ago musky-ripe cow. Cooked steak tastes like memories.
“Doug,” says the man.
I have a mouthful of loam. It’s a vision of endless universe and black, starry nights. When I turn my head to look at the man, I feel disoriented. He seems to float in space.
“You see that couple?” he asks, pointing ahead.
I see two teenagers across the park. They neck and giggle, winding over and between each other, charged with life, but they are strangers to me. They have no food.
“You like them?” asks the man.
What he’s really asking: Do I like them more than him? That Baxter dog, he knocked the old lady caring for him down the steps. She smelled of age and illness. He wanted to escape her and live with the vibrant young newlyweds across the street.
The man starts laughing, and it’s weird, I’m not sure how. But there’s a vibe.
Hey man, I want to say, I’m just a normal dog. I want that Special Dinners dog food, I love that food, man. Keep it going and all is good, it’s fantastic. Let it go.
Have you ever seen that movie? The Ring? It’s a Japanese horror film later remade in English. The man has the American version, which is easier to understand, but this movie is weird. There are no dogs, though there’s a horse that’s wild and dark. In a terrible scene, it leaps from the edge of a ferry, gets sucked under the boat, ground through the underwater machinery.
A writer somewhere thought that scene up, fleshed it out on paper. Some movie director made it happen. I can’t think why.
The Ring is a movie about a movie: a film that supposedly snuffs you seven days after you watch it. A creepy wet girl climbs through the TV screen and into the living room. She has long, dark hair. She drowned in a well—
The DVD case for Baxter lies open and abandoned on the living room floor. I read the words on the cover: Méfiez-vous du chien qui pense. (Translation: beware the dog that thinks), and it irks me this statement. Just because I think—
That Baxter dog loved the young couple. They took him into their lives. They were vibrant, sensual, rutting long into the night. Baxter swooned, I swooned.
Like Baxter, I’m all white, ghostly, snowy, except I have a brown spot on my left eye. In that way, I’m more like the Target dog, target practice, bullseye. Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. I pound my tail hard against the carpet, thump thump thumping. I love how that feels. I want to do it forever, never stop.
The man stands in the living room. He rages in the darkness with blinds pulled and lights turned out. He seems entranced by a recorded stage production of Hamlet on Masterpiece Theater, Great Performances. The reckless Dane. The girl named Ophelia. She floats on her back in a stream, drowned and beautiful. If she leaped from the side of a ferry, we’ll never know. Snuffed seven days—
The man cries great salty tears. He’s fierce with feelings, pungent with emotion.
“Doug,” he says. “You think she’ll come through the screen?”
I blink twice for no, she’s not our problem. Not yours, not mine. Is it time for dinner? I’m just saying, you know, I think it is. If I could only read the clock, if I could only tell time—
“Doug,” says the man, “do you love her?”
Man, I love me some dinner. As far as I can tell, neither of those drowned girls owned a single can opener (all hail the can opener!). No man, no, I don’t love her.
The man turns back toward TV screen, his appearance is defeated.
It just goes to show, men think all the time, and look how that turns out.
Tonight we watch movies from beneath the ocean. The man bought an undersea projection lamp and set it on the living room floor where it rotates slowly. Childish images of fish and sea stars and smiling mermaids glide across the walls and ceiling. They hang in the air, and I can’t help it, I run in circles. I bite and bite, at the many-legged octopus, the grinning sea turtle. My mouth closes on nothing. I can’t smell them, I can’t feel them, but they move, and I must chase them. They possess me in their nonexistence.
The man gulps wine from the bottle. He sits rocking on the sofa, ranting at a king named Henry who rants also, about Frenchman and Agincourt and a saint named Crispin. The king says this is a day men will not forget, though well they should—that’s what I think—because soon they’re hacking and fighting. Horses scream on the battlefield, their bodies crashing amid a storm of swords and arrows. They gasp their last in a bloodied mud soup born of two men’s vainglory: king of France and king of England, cutting limb from limb as mermaids roll over the screen. They smile in infantile bliss.
The man’s hands are shaking when he hooks the leash to my collar, that tugging rapture. I puff down the hall like a freight train, my tongue reaching, searching. Thoughts of Crispin vanish behind the apartment door that grows smaller at the end of the hallway behind us. I wonder, sometimes, that the door gets so tiny when we leave but gets normal sized when we return. The whole world is like that, a wonder of endless morphing—
When I plunge outside I expect a clear night run. Instead, rain is solid water. Birds don’t fly, they swim. If I could I’d frown ‘cause no, man, no, this is not walking weather. This is sky piss weather, what the fuck? But the man yanks me down the sidewalk, all through that muck and slop, and because I resent being yanked—I have rights, too, you know—I run full-out. The rain’s so hard I can barely see. The man slides down a small hill, running alongside the river. He kicks mud that fills my mouth and nostrils so I’m eating, smelling, breathing earth’s life and history, birthing, dying, acrid musk of elk fear from long ago, the panic scent it spewed while hurtling through forest primeval, fleeing his Lord and consorts.
The man’s foot slips on the slick mucky path. Abruptly, the leash is a hangman’s noose; it wrenches me through the air. Afterward, I shake the kink from my neck—seriously man?—and see him staring hard at a the figure of girl. She stands near the shore, holding an umbrella and looking into the river that’s fast from the storm.
“But I made the living room underwater,” says the man. “No drowned girl wants to be in the water. Right, Doug?”
I don’t know the answer to this query. I don’t know what he’s talking about.
“But she came anyway,” says the man, “that girl you love, she came through the screen. She followed you. She wants you.”
If I could roll my eyes I would, ‘cause seriously, man, that was a movie. What the hell are you so hung up about? Besides, it’s cold out here. I want to go back inside and sleep by the heat vent (all hail the heat vent!). Come on, man, get a grip and let’s go home.
Have you ever seen that movie? 300? That’s how it’s written: a three, then two zeroes. In the story, three hundred bare-chested Spartan men fight to the death against an overwhelming Persian force at the Battle of Thermopylae.
At the start of the film, a Persian envoy travels to Sparta demanding levies of earth and water. The Spartan king roars that the envoy will have both and kicks him backward to drown in an enormous black well. The falling man’s eyes show wild and bright in the slit between his turban and face scarf, swallowed to great black nothing.
The man turns his head to look at me. His angst is a curl of invisible smoke that winds and twists in the air. It’s stink of fear. Elk careens through forest primeval. Except there’s no lord and consorts. Just the man and me and those ridiculous smiling mermaids. They glide over the screen of slow motion carnage accompanied by a wailing dirge. Men gasp their last in a forum of two kings’ vainglory: Xerxes of Persia, Leonides of Sparta. Two thousand years later, King Henry’s soldier crouches in the muddy blood soup, cradling a friend’s bodiless head.
“Alas, poor Yorrick! I knew him—”
I recall that film we saw last summer—have you seen it?—Conan the child-barbarian sees his village massacred by soldiers and war dogs. The dogs rend flesh while men wield spears and swords stained with guts and gore. A writer somewhere thought that scene up, fleshed it out on paper. Some movie director made it happen. I can’t think why. It was irksome, I thought, how those dogs were made to resemble blood-lusting monsters. They weren’t actually killing machines.
So much fighting/warring and what for? Not a single can opener in sight (all hail the can opener!). And seriously, man, we can share the can opener. No reason to go all nuclear about it. But the man stands and turns the undersea projection lamp to high. It’s incredible, what wonder! I can’t help it, I run in circles. The man laughs at me, and that doesn’t seem nice of him. Those silly mermaids possess me in their nonexistence. I’m just a simple dog.
“You can’t help it, can you?” he says. “You love those drowned girls.” His voice is a snarl. I’ve never heard him this way before. “You pretend you don’t, but deep down you’re a bastard. And now it’s been seven days.”
I’m dizzy from circling, and I’m not sure what he’s saying. It’s been seven days? Oh, I get it now, seven days since the creepy girl climbed through the TV—
A film that supposedly snuffs you a week after you watch it. I’d know it’s been seven days also, except I can’t count. French is one thing, counting is another. Like those clock faces that go round and round, counting in all ways eludes me.
The man steps closer. My tail flails in desperate wagging. It’s what I do, I wag. I love how it feels, that stiff action down my back. But right now I don’t feel like wagging. I’m tired ‘cause this running thing, it’s been happening for a while now. So, maybe we could just shut off that lamp, unplug the TV, forget all that weird shit. Man, what d’you say? Just have us some nice Special Dinners, you and me. I’ll share, and you’ll like it, too, I’m sure of it.
But that lamp keeps turning. It goes on and on. My tongue flaps from my mouth, it’s my flag waving pink, maybe it should be white ‘cause the man’s got some kind of walking stick, no it’s a cane, long and metal. I angle my body. Away.
Tired, I’m tired, I’m slow—
Bloodied mud soup, taste of red, of raw steak of white fur. It rolls my mind, turns the world round and round. I’d wag still, except my tail’s not working.
The man stands straight, holding his bloodied night stick, staring at the TV screen.
At the end of Baxter, the dog is killed by his new boy owner, who plans to kill his parents and live with the sensual young couple across the street.
At the end of 300, a soldier relates the tale of those fifteen score soldiers dead in battle. The Spartan council harks inspired. The soldier leads a new Spartan army to slaughter the Persians. A writer somewhere didn’t have to think it up. It actually happened.
I roll my eyes from my place on the floor, watching the man. It just goes to show, he’s been thinking all the time, and look how that—
*Feature photo by Lucas Andrade.